A GOAL with his first touch from Darren Bent denied Sheffield Wednesday their first victory over a top-five Championship rival this term in a 1-1 draw at Derby County.
The Owls were within eight minutes of clinching the victory which would have all but mathematically sealed their play-off participation, with Barry Bannan’s stunning curler having put them ahead on 68 minutes as the midfielder celebrated his place in the PFA Championship team of the season in fitting fashion.
But veteran goalpoacher Bent had the final word, nodding in at the far post.
Both sides made one change, with Will Hughes handed his first start at the iPro since May 2 in place of George Thorne for the Rams, while Aiden McGeady, back from a hamstring problem, replaced the suspended Ross Wallace in Wednesday’s line-up.
Six points and two places separated both sides in the table ahead of kick-off and that closeness was reflected in a first half in which both sides produced some controlled and eye-catching football at times, with the margins between both being thin.
Wednesday, seeking to nip a three-match winless streak in the bud, went close 22 minutes in when ex-Rams loanee Bannan saw his deflected low shot turned away by Scott Carson.
Another promising moment saw Kieran Lee drive into the Derby area and drill a pass towards Gary Hooper but the striker could not get a connection in front of goal and the ball ran narrowly wide.
The Rams, aiming to secure a sixth successive home win for the first time since 2010, also had their moments with Chris Martin seeing his low strike held by Keiren Westwood early on before a polished move on the half-hour ended with the Owls keeper acrobatically tipping over a fine curling shot from Craig Bryson.
A couple of moments danger also arrived just before the break when Derby attacked down the left with Jonny Russell’s dink across goal just requiring a touch from a home player with Westwood stranded out of goal.
Derby were then presented with a good free-kick opportunity from distance after Alex Lopez was cautioned for a foul on Bryson, with Tom Ince’s exquisite curler flying narrowly over in a close shave for the visitors.
Wednesday, after a proficient first half when they gave as good as they got, fired the first meaningful salvo of the second period and it almost yielded a sublime opener.
The ball found its way to Forestieri 25 yards out and despite nothing appearing to be on, the gifted frontman unleashed a brilliant strike from distance which was clawed away in equally outstanding fashion by Carson, who made a superb one-handed save.
Derby soon got back on message and proceeded to produce a strong spell in which they could - and perhaps should - have forged a breakthrough.
First, a big penalty call went against them when the rampaging Cyrus Christie went down following a last-ditch challenge from Lopez, but referee Lee Mason was unmoved with the home fans baying for a penalty.
Soon after, Christie’s astute pull-back found Bryson, who should have done better ten yards out, but his point-blank shot was turned away by Westwood.
The increasingly influential Christie then set up Russell, who sprang the offside trap, only to see his effort blocked by Westwood, with Martin blazing over following more commotion.
Wednesday weathered the storm and got their reward on 68 minutes.
A break was led by Gary Hooper and he supplied Bannan with Derby temporarily caught short of numbers at the back and the midfielder’s fine curler flew over Carson and into the net off the underside of the bar in a delicious moment.
The visitors almost wrapped things up 12 minutes from time when Forestieri’s free-kick from the left clipped the bar, before the striker suffered his second booking in four days after being punished after pulling back Richard Keogh, much to the angst of Carlos Carvalhal in the technical area.
That development was the prelude to an action-packed storming finish with Derby throwing Nick Blackman and Bent into the fray in a bid to salvage an equaliser.
The move paid instant dividends, with the ball finding its way to Russell on the left and his deep cross was buried at the back post in predatory finish by Bent.
Fellow sub Blackman had a momentary chance in stoppage-time in an absorbing finish, but he reacted slowly and the chance went as both sides had to settle for a point.
Derby County: Carson; Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Olsson; Butterfield (Blackman 81), Hughes (Hanson 75), Bryson; Russell, Martin, Ince (Bent 81). Substitutes unused: Mitchell, Buxton,, Camara, Weimann.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Loovens, Pudil; McGeady (Matias 68), Lee, Lopez, Bannan; Hooper (Joao 73), Forestieri (Helan 85). Substitutes unused: Wildsmith, Sasso, McGugan, Nuhiu.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).
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